Thursday, December 31, 2009

Louisa May Alcott

I caught the end of a PBS special on Louisa May Alcott the other night. What surprised me about her was that she earned a great deal of money - more than Herman Melville - by writing juvenile fiction. She wrote for a living and much of what she wrote, according to the documentary, she did not enjoy.

The money did not start pouring in right away. She wrote extensively for magazines and had her first novel, FLOWER FABLES, published when she was 22. However, LITTLE WOMEN became her first "best seller".

Louisa May Alcott did not have an easy life - even after she started earning a great deal of money. Actually, I don't believe anyone has an "easy" life. After overcoming poverty, over the years Alcott had to deal with health issues and the deaths of family members. She even raised her niece after artist sister, May, died.

Overcoming challenges and conflicts - that is what makes stories interesting. And, experience is a good teacher.

I hope that this coming year finds us in a season of peace and prosperity. So that we can take the time to frame our experiences and create stories that tell the truth, keep readers engaged and reflect excellence. Here's to the Louisa May Alcott's in the making.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Past, Present, Future

What will the new year bring? I think that's something that we all wonder as we head out of 2009 and into 2010. It's interesting that in the minds of people there is a definitive ending and beginning to years. December 30th is not distinctively different than January 1st unless you're looking at the calendar. One cold day of winter bears a close resemblance to the next. Where does the new year actually happen? In our minds only.

In church on Sunday, the pastor was talking about a new start that the new year gives to us. He gave us an acronym for how to begin the new year.

START:

Stop making excuses for what we don't think we can do. (As we tap into God's ability that works through us, we don't need to excuse ourselves anymore.)

Take inventory can take inventory of what God has given us.

Act in faith: Put some action behind what we believe. That's faith. It doesn't just sit around.

Refocus: See yourself the way God sees you.

Trust: And finally, when all is said and done, trust God.

And then let the new year come. There's nothing to be afraid of in it when you remember that you have the power of the Holy Spirit alive inside of you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chestnuts and Christmas Greetings


My friend Ruby gave me a generous amount of chestnuts recently. As a child, she lived in upstate New York and her family had a chestnut tree in their yard. She has loved them ever since.

Of course, I was delighted to try them. After all, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a Christmas classic. Unfortunately, our fireplaces don’t work, so I had to use the toaster oven. And thus came about new lyrics for the old Christmas classic as Ruby and I wrote back and forth on Facebook:

“Chestnuts roasting in a toaster oven.
Kleenex for a stuffy nose.
Modern carols made up on the fly,
And laughter with people that you know.
Everybody knows some snowplows and some salting trucks
Help to make the season bright.
So spread the word,
Tell everyone what you’ve heard
And Merry Christmas to you!”

Despite what our silly little song would imply, Jesus is the reason for the season! The early Christian church was wise to set the date for celebrating Jesus’ birth at the darkest time of the year. Jesus is the light of the world. And, as Christians, we celebrate our faith with joy and lights and feasting especially in the darkest of times!

December is also the time for the Jewish feast celebrating light – Hannukah. This festival began about well before Jesus’ time when the Macabees rebelled against the Greeks who had polluted the temple. The temple lamp was re-lit and, although there was only enough oil for one day, the lamp miraculously burned for 8 days, until more purified oil was readied.

So let’s celebrate the light in the midst of darkness, laughter in the midst of stress and hardship, divine provision in a time of famine. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Genesis 1: 3-5 (Message) ‘God spoke: "Light!" And light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated light from dark.’

John 1:1-5 (NASB) ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reeling from Reality

Christmas is a good time to reflect on how the busyness of life can take over life.

If you have time, that is.

I like Thanksgiving better than Christmas, as holidays go. Now, this isn't to say that I don't enjoy Christmas. It's just that for Thanksgiving, there aren't Christmas parties to attend, shopping to do, and programs to see. Thanksgiving is very much a one day event with a special focus on being thankful. I like that. Christmas, by comparison, is a hectic whirl that sweeps you away until you wake up on December 26th knowing that you aren't in Kansas anymore.

This year, after pondering this phenomenon, I decided that the wise men had the right idea. The way to make it through the Christmas season intact is to keep your eyes on that guiding star. By doing so, you will arrive at the correct destination. For the wise men, the star was physical. For us, it is Jesus. So take heart if life doesn't feel peaceful for you during this season. It's not about feelings. It's about focus. Jesus isn't the Prince of Peace for nothing. Keep your eyes on Him and you'll make it to where you're supposed to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One of My Favorite Things About Christmas


The tree, the lights, all the decorations are so beautiful this time of year. Watching the looks on the faces of children as they open up their gifts Christmas morning is pretty special too. The colors, the smell of cookies baking in the oven, snow falling softy outside your window while you sit with a cup of hot cocoa in your snug sweater by the fireside are wonderful thought as well. But one of my favorite things about Christmas arrests me every year. I can't help myself, it moves me to tears.

I wonder if this happens to anyone else. I wonder if anyone else thinks this way. I wonder how long this freedom will continue.

Each year I will enter the stores looking for just the right gifts. Suddenly, I am captured. I close my eyes and allow the tears to come. People are busy all around me. Different nationalities, sizes, and shapes. Different religious backgrounds. They are all present. Then the sound envelopes me like a blanket...

Fall on your knees, O hear the angle voices! O night divine, oh night, when Christ was born! O night, divine. O night, oh night divine!

Just the thought of it fills my eyes once more. This is the time of year when people cannot help but hear the gospel. I truly wonder, how many people are touched by the words of the music of Christmas.

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy...

So Happy Christmas to all! Next time your at the store I hope you will enjoy hearing the name of Jesus ringing through the speakers. May God bless us every one!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword

As a writer, I love the phrase: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It both empowers and encourages me. The phrase is taken from a play written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. Entitled Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, the play contains this speech for the character of Cardinal Richelieu: “True, This! Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword. Behold the arch-enchanters wand! Itself a nothing! But taking sorcery from the master-hand to paralyse the C├Žsars, and to strike the loud earth breathless! Take away the sword. States can be saved without it!”

The power of the written word reflects the very power of words themselves. After all, God spoke the words and the universe was created. From the very beginning of the Bible until its end, its writers chronicle the power of words – for good and for bad. No one seems to understand this concept better than King David who wrote: “His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” Psalm 55:21. And, “Who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows—bitter words.” Psalm 64:3 (NASB)

Other biblical writers reinforce the power of words in the context of war and judgment. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” Ephesians 6:17 (NASB)

And the writer of Hebrews: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12 (NASB)

And the Apostle John: (from The Message Bible) “Then I saw Heaven open wide—and oh! a white horse and its Rider. The Rider, named Faithful and True, judges and makes war in pure righteousness. His eyes are a blaze of fire, on his head many crowns. He has a Name inscribed that's known only to himself. He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood, and he is addressed as "Word of God." The armies of Heaven, mounted on white horses and dressed in dazzling white linen, follow him. A sharp sword comes out of his mouth so he can subdue the nations, then rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the raging wrath of God, the Sovereign-Strong. On his robe and thigh is written, King of kings, Lord of lords.” Rev. 19:11

However, I love the words the Shakespeare penned because they reflect the saving side of words. This is the speech that I love so much. It is the first part of Portia’s speech in Act 4, Scene 1 from “The Merchant of Venice”:
“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.”

It’s almost as if Shakespeare was interpreting Psalm 123, verse 1 (Message Bible) “I look to you, heaven-dwelling God, look up to you for help. Like servants, alert to their master's commands, like a maiden attending her lady, we're watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy. Mercy, God, mercy! We've been kicked around long enough, kicked in the teeth by complacent rich men, kicked when we're down by arrogant brutes.”

Words of mercy and words of power – they all come from the pen of a ready writer – a warrior for God.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exciting News

Friday I received an email from an editor for a publishing company about my picture book manuscript, Melba Sue and the Cactus Kid. They are interested in it, and have asked me to make some revisions to see if it can become a good fit for their company. I was very excited to hear this, of course. but particularly pleased since this was the first editor to see this manuscript at all, since the other house I sent it to was not taking materials from non-agented authors. (Alas, incorrect information from a writer's market let me astray, but I don't grieve the lost postage.)

So now it is time for revisions to see what will come. No matter what comes, it is very encouraging, and I'm happy to see my favorite manuscript making some headway in the picture book market.

Who knows. If all goes well, maybe Melba Sue will bake me a pie.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To Kindle, or Not to Kindle? That is the Question.



I recently read someone's comment on facebook about the greatest gift ever for this year being a Kindle. Not knowing what Kindle was I googled it of course.

It was familiar. I remembered a cousin saying she thought eventually books might become obsolete because of this new invention.

Here are the facts. Kindle 1 came out in November of 07 by Amazon. It sold out in five and a half hours and the device remained out of stock for five months. The original Kindle, retailed then for $399.

Now there is Kindle 2 and Kindle DX. Kindle 2 holds 1,500 titles, Kindle DX holds 3,500. Kindle 2 is 8.0 x 5.3 in., Kindle DX is 2 1/2 times larger.

I have mixed feelings about this new invention. I love to read. Books are more reasonable priced through this device and you get immediate access to newly released books. It DOES NOT read like a computer. The images are razor sharp and can be read in bright sunlight. After you order a book it is delivered to you in less then 60 seconds. You also have free access to some classics.

Why would you want a Kindle? That's up to you of course. The written word will never go away in my opinion. There is always your local library were you can order any book you want whether they have it or not. You just have to drive and sometimes wait for what you want. With Kindle, you buy it and supposedly it is your forever. No books taking up space in your house. No germ filled books from the library which have been previously read by who knows who with who knows what disease. (No I am not a germaphobe) I do wonder where a library book has been when I read it. Don't you?

There are many pro's and con's to this Kindle. I will probable break down one day and buy one. Once the price is more reasonable. My biggest reservation is I hate reading online. This is supposed to be unlike that experience and more like a real book. I'd have to see for myself.

I didn't mention that along with access to 350,000 book titles, you also can access newspapers, magazines, and over 2,500 blogs.

We all need to make up our own minds. This is not to sway anyone to the right or left, just to inform. In the spring Mac is supposed to come out with their own version of Kindle. I would definitely wait to see what they have to offer.

Until then, I shall return to my stack of library books waiting to be opened and devoured. Whatever way you take it in, the words remain the same, with the ability to wisp you off to another time and place, Kindle, or no Kindle.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vision

It was only four months ago that my eyes decided to start being bright red each time they wore contacts! I would try them again randomly here and there, every couple weeks. But I always got the same result. Now, after so much time off I'm able to wear them again. I'm not sure why I can wear the same contacts as before when earlier I couldn't. But now, it feels like I've gotten a fresh look at life through lenses that my eyes accept! I can see better and clearer with them.

I think writing is that way. I'll try the same story the same old way. But then after a few days or months away I am able to try it again with a new perspective some creativity and usually...it glows!

BRIANA

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Missed Monday: Oops!

Somehow I thought life would become easier after Nanowrimo. After all, that 50,000 word behemoth is behind me now. (Except for the days of rewriting, of course.)

Life has not become not easier.

In fact, in some ways, it's become more difficult since I have to somehow make up for taking time out to do all that writing when I was supposed to be doing other things. Sigh. I just hate being behind. And I know better than to delude myself into thinking that I'll use my Christmas vacation to put it all back together. No, I get more done when I'm busy than when I am not busy. I have to strike while the iron is hot, and go on knowing that Rome wasn't built in a day.

So the other night, when I had a peaceful hour before bed, I tucked myself in with pajamas, the Physics book, pen and paper, and felt that I made some respectable progress before I fell asleep. (That was Monday when this blog was due.)

Now you're probably wondering what the point of this blog is. I'm kind of wondering that myself. I guess there is no point, but that I'm just mulling over some thoughts.

• If I just keep on and don't give up, eventually, I will get everything done (or mostly done).
• If I keep a list, I won't forget important things like calling the surgeon about having Kathryn's wisdom teeth out (like I forgot to do today).
• I have to try to do what I can before the holidays get me, because somehow, no matter what, I CAN'T SEEM TO GET ANYTHING DONE DURING VACATION, AND BY THE END, I'M SOOOO GLAD IT'S OVER BECAUSE I HATE BEING UNPRODUCTIVE.

Now that I have that out of my system, I'm going to post this blog which has very little meaning, but at least is a blog. That first point might just be a mom's delusion, by the way. I have this eerie feeling that you don't ever really get everything done.

Now let's all take a purifying deep breath. I feel much better now. Don't you?

Self Expression

Just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two human beings are exactly alike - not even identical twins. Nowhere do I enjoy seeing this more than in the evidence of self expression. I love seeing the manifestation of God's gifts inside a person through self expression whether it is writing, the arts, sciences, or service.

However, since I am focusing on writing, here, I confess that I am looking forward to reading what others have written in the last month. After writing so intensively for the last month, I feel like I am crawling out of a cave of my own making and am blinking in the intense light of day.

I was part of a group called Hidden Talent Theatre and our tag line was "What's inside of you?"

It's important for us to share what's inside of us - whether good or bad - in the right way. Self expression can be fun and happy, but it can also help us to dig out the bad stuff and expose it to the light. Ultimately, as a Christian, self expression in writing can be an act of service. By honestly sharing what's inside of you through story form, a reader may recognize or understand a truth or insight that applies to them. Jesus was the best of storytellers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ella Enchanted



I just finished reading this Newberry Honor award winning novel.

I will admit, I almost didn't finish it. This novel has many similarities to the story of Cinderella and I love the character of Cinderella. No matter what her evil stepsisters or stepmother dished out she remained gracious and unselfish. This book paints Ella in a very different light.

Ella is a young maiden from Frell. As an infant a careless fairy bestows a gift. The gift of obedience. No matter what she is told to do, she must do. Whether it's scrubbing the kitchen floor, or chopping off her own head, she must obey.

Ella is funny and likable. However, she is strong willed in spite of the horrible gift/curse of obedience.

In this story Ella's ultimate quest is to seek out Lucinda, the inconsiderate fairy who bestowed the "gift" upon her. Ella befriends a prince, meets friendly elves, attends a wedding for giants, and almost gets eaten by ogres. There she discovers she has the ability to charm them.

In spite of my early reservations I thoroughly enjoyed this maidens tale of trials, perseverance, and ultimate happy ending. The resolution was very well done. It came through the power of unselfishness. It was definitely worth the reading.

NOTE- I also saw this movie after reading the book. The book is nothing like it. So if you didn't like the movie (like I did not) give the book a chance. It is worlds different.